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Economic Systems in Copan Compared to Other Ancient Cultures

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Economic Systems

Throughout history there has been a common theme of progression towards more complex societies. The advent of agriculture enabled population sizes to increase, and allowed permanent settlements to arise. As extensive cultivation of farmland progressed, a surplus of food was created that enabled some people within a society to be non-food producers. These people who no longer were required to farm in order to survive were able to develop marketable goods that they could exchange for food. This transition towards interdependence, (craftsmen depending on exchanging their goods for food), brought with it an opportunity for the government within each society to exact some tribute for monitoring the economy, and making sure that exchanges went smoothly. This led to societies with a well-defined hierarchy and slowly led to the abolition of the egalitarian societies where everyone engages in the same means of production. Within these aforementioned egalitarian societies there is some occupational specialization, but it is based on the skill of the craftsmen, and no one is a full time specialist. The differences in the economies of Copan, Teotihuacan, and ancient Rome, can illustrate why and how economies increase in complexity, and what criteria are necessary for large-scale economic specialization. More specifically, what factors limited Copan and Teotihuacan, preventing them from attaining the population size, and economic complexity of ancient Rome.

Teotihuacan was a huge metropolis in what is now southern Mexico. It became a large city before 100CE and reached the height of its size from about 600-650CE. At its height it was home to roughly 125,000 inhabitants. There is a permanent springs nearby the ancient city, and satellite photos have indicated the presence of a possible irrigation system with canals used to water farm sites. Although the age of the irrigation canals has yet to be established it seems to be highly probable that this canal system was created concurrently with the development of the city. This conclusion is also supported by a lack of rural population, which would have been necessary to provide food for such a large population if there wasn't agriculture within the city. Because the food was not brought in from a great distance, the travel expenditure to get the food to the population would have been low. This allowed there to be a dense population concentration within the urban area. The expense of moving goods in the new world seems to have been a factor that limited the size of cities. Because of a lack of domestic animals, or even of wheeled vehicles, all goods were transported on the backs of porters, or in boats that weren't as technologically advanced as most of those in the old world. Despite these obstacles to the development of a city, the degree of specialization within the city seems to have been relatively high. In two-fifths of the settlements that have been excavated, there is evidence of specialized craft production. There is also evidence for specialization within a particular craft. There have been sites of production unearthed where a particular pot size and shape is manufactured exclusively. An example of this type of find is seen at the site Tiajnga 33. At this site only one type of pottery has been manufactured. The shapes of the pottery are restricted, and there is evidence that this site sat in a specialized pottery district, because other sites nearby exhibited similar specialization.

An analysis of the economy at nearby Copan allows for a comparison between the 2 civilizations. At the height of Copan from 750-800CE there were approximately 27,000 people living in an area of 450 square kilometers. Based on this smaller population size and relative lack of density compared to Teotihuacan it would be expected that the economy would not be as complex. This theory seems to be accurate based on the observable data and excavations that have been performed at Copan. Out of the 1425 sites at Copan that have been excavated, only 13 show signs of occupational specialization.

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